Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Farewell England!

Our last day and it's cool and cloudy. . . sort of as if London knows it's our last day and is a bit sad to see us go.  We too, although ready to return home, will be a bit sad to depart.

We spent the morning cleaning and packing and then treated ourselves to a lovely lunch at our local Brackenbury Deli.

Then we had a few errands to do:  going to Boots, the local drug store for contact lens solution and hand cream, mailing some last minute postcards, and most importantly, Don had to go pick up his U.S. dollars that he was getting from closing his British HSBC Bank account.  He received his cash in four white envelopes which he promptly tucked in to his shirt and then zipped up his outer vest.  I felt a bit like I was in a James Bond movie!  
Having completed all our domestic chores, Loren suggested that we go get a pint at The Swan.  I was sure Don would say no as he wanted to get his cash home, but then again, would Don ever turn down an offer for a pint?

In the Swan there was a large contingent of Scotsmen all dressed up in their kilts.  I asked what was the occasion and one lad told me that Scotland was playing England tomorrow in football.  There is a huge rivalry between the Scots and the Brits and they were expecting a huge inundation of Scotsman in to the city.

We came back to 78 Brackenbury Street for little lie down before meeting Loren's cousin Barbara and heading to the Andover Arms pub which is just around the corner and was where we had dinner on our first night here.  We thought it appropriate that we have our last dinner here as well.  It was delicious,  and I had my final fish and chips with a Honey Dew Lager.  It was great having Barbara join us in our final meal in London. 

A great ending to a great visit.

I have always thought highly of London, but these three weeks have brought this city way up in my esteem and admiration. The protagonist of Saroyan's wartime novel, The Adventures of Wesley Jackson says,

"It embarrasses me to say that I am in love with this city, for it seems such a false thing for anyone to say, but I am in love with London, and I will never stop being in love with it." 

I say unabashedly, "I am in love with London."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Our Last Monday Meanderings

Instead of heading out of the city fifty miles on a train to Bletchley Park,  Loren decided to go to the London Science Museum on Don's recommendation to see the exhibit on Alan Turing. However, he got a little waylaid by going to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a second round to see the Muslim exhibit.

He also came across the Great Bed of Ware!
 Experts now agree that the Great Bed of Ware was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  It was most probably an advertising ‘gimmick’ to draw travelers to the town after a possible drop in numbers of visitors when Catholics were no longer making pilgrimages to the shrine at Walsingham, Norfolk.

Although it was thought at one time to have been made for a grand local family, stylistic evidence suggests it was more likely to have been made for use in the  apartments in the inns of Ware which were set apart for members of the Gentry.

The Great Bed of Ware is an extremely large oak four poster bed, carved with marquetry, that was originally housed in the White Hart Inn in Ware, England. Built by Hertfordshire carpenter Jonas Fosbrooke in 1580, the bed measures ten by eleven feet and can "sleep" over fifteen people at once. Many of those who have used the bed have carved their names into its posts.

The most famous mention is made by Shakespeare's character Toby Belch in Twelfth Night which was first performed in 1601 "...and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England..."

I can't help wondering if this very bed is where our Ware ancestors may have gotten their start!

Loren was so engrossed with the V&A until he realized it was 2:30; he hadn't eaten lunch and he hadn't gone to the science museum. So he went off to the science museum and went in to their cafe.  He didn't want to spend 8.5 pounds on a sandwich, so he went to the children's section and got a cheese sandwich and a yogurt for 4 pounds!  Then he went through the Alan Turing exhibit and had a grand time.

On his way home, he decided to go in to a Casino just to check it out.  The slot machines were nothing like he had seen before and he needed some help which came to him in the size and shape of a young woman who was not very much on the ball. There were lights, and nudge buttons and levers that he just couldn't figure out.  The lady told him what to do and when he put his first pound in, he got four extra turns.  However, when he put his second pound in nothing happened.  He called the girl over again and asked what went wrong?  The girl unplugged the machine and asked him to put another pound in.  "No, I don't want to put another pound in.  I'd like my pound back!"

I wish I had been there to see this interaction!  After much time and discussion, Loren signed some agreement in duplicate and got his pound back!  (That's $1.50!!)

Meanwhile, Don and I headed for Portabello Market via a Tube line that we hadn't taken before to Notting Hill Gate.

Portabello Market turned out to be a really fun place.  It was a very cute and somewhat upscale area.

I couldn't help but think of my friend Arta.  Arta is always fashionably dressed and has a very keen, classy sense of style.  She told me that she gets all of her clothes at used clothing stores and I couldn't believe it.  Well Portabello Market would be a dream-come-true for someone like Arta.  There are little shops, many of them with vintage clothing, adorable dresses, antiques, jewelery and sundry other items.
This clock sold for 12,000 pounds ($18,000) and was designed by the man who built Big Ben.  It is powered by a metal ball that acts as a kind of pendulum.

One clothing store lured us in because there were rows and rows of old antique sewing machines.  It turned out to be a store called  ALL SAINTS.  We talked to a salesgirl who said they were expanding and had stores in Las Vegas and Los Angeles and were possibly coming to San Francisco.  The clothes were magnificent, but I asked the girl if it was part of their brand to have everything in whites, greys, black and muted tones.  She said, "Yes, we have a discerning color palette!!"  Keep a look out for All Saints in your area- you definitely want to have a look.

There were many stalls in addition to the stores.  This lady drew quite a crowd as she cooked up crepes which she spread with Nutella and bananas.

There was one store totally devoted to antique sports equipment.  Don was drawn immediately to the Cricket set which he decided to demonstrate to a group of French tourists!!


It was around 12:30 by this point and Don and I looked at each other and without even saying the words we knew we were both thinking, "It's time for our pint!"  We found a nice looking pub on the corner and went in.  The barmaid was charming and Don charmed her even more.  We ended up taking our pints out to the garden.  It was quite delightful.


I can't leave off without commenting about the characters of London.  At first I thought it was an anomaly, but it has happened almost regularly that I am beginning to think it is part of the British character.  There was the lady with a cane who we met as we were waiting to get a cart at the grocery store.  Don announced, "I don't have a pound."  (You put a pound in the cart and it releases it's chain, then when you take it back to the cart station you get your pound back.)  Well the lady putting her cart back said, "Oh I just put my cart back or else you could have used mine.  It is hot today.  Well just tow weeks ago it was my birthday and my uncle got cremated on my birthday. It was so hot I couldn't stand it."

In an effort to hurry the conversation along, I said, "Well Happy Birthday to You."
She looked a little quizzical and said, "Oh, is it my birthday?"

Then there was the one-toothed lady who without any solicitation approached us in the grocery line and said, "It's disgraceful; it's horrible.  There just isn't enough help here.  We shouldn't have to wait in line.  When I asked he if she had ever tried the self check-out that was open right next to us she said, "No. Never.  I lose money when I go through that line.  They take my money,"

And today Don and I are sitting outside in front of a cafe eating our lunch when a lady comes right up to us and says, "I think it's going to rain.  I always bring my umbrella with me but today I left it at home and it's going to rain."  Then turning to Don she says, "Oh you're a naughty boy aren't you?  Didn't I see you last night at the strip joint?  Well you know I shared a womb with a boy but he died.  My older brother told me I killed him because I kicked him.  I told my older brother that was rubbish.  He just died.  And if my older brother didn't stop saying things like that I was going to cut off this third leg."

Now I could not make things like this up!

And then, on our way home as we pulled in to the Kensington Station and the doors opened. there was this old guy in a red uniform.  "Is that a Beefeater?" I asked Don.  An older woman on the train said, "No, he's a Chelsea pensioner."  Of course I had to look up to see what a Chelsea Pensioner was and it says:

During the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II, the Royal Hospital was still under construction, so they introduced a system for distribution of army pensions in 1689. The pension was to be made available to all former soldiers who had been injured in service, or who had served for more than 20 years.

By the time the Hospital was completed, there were more pensioners than places available in the Hospital. Eligible ex-soldiers who could not be housed in the Hospital were termed out-pensioners, receiving their pension from the Royal Hospital but living outside it. In-pensioners, by contrast, surrender their army pension and live within the Royal Hospital.

In 1703, there were only 51 out-pensioners. By 1815 this figure had risen to 36,757.

The Royal Hospital remained responsible for distributing army pensions until 1955, following which the phrase "out-pensioner" became less common, and "Chelsea pensioner" was used largely to refer to "in-pensioners".

Upon arrival at the Royal Hospital, each in-pensioner is given a "berth" in a ward, a small room (9 feet x 9 feet) on a long corridor, and is allocated to a company. In-pensioners surrender their army pension, in return receiving board, lodging, clothing and full medical care.

The size of the hospital berths has increased over time. There are 18 berths to a ward.

To be considered for admission as an in-pensioner, a candidate must be:

    1.  A former non-commissioned officer or soldier of the British Army
   2.   In receipt of an Army Service or War Disability Pension
   3.   65 years of age or over (this may be waived if a candidate is suffering from a seriously disabling, incurable but not immediately life-threatening condition requiring long-term care)
   4.   Free from the obligation to support a spouse, partner or family

So there is your history lesson for today!

There are definitely unique characters of London, but we have also noted time and time again about how pleasant, helpful and upbeat the Citizens of London are.  Take the young man going up a large flight of stairs in the subway.  When we asked directions to the Picadilly Transfer he came down the stairs and walked us to where we needed to go - obviously out of his way.  There is most assuredly a positive energy;  Londoners seem like a very happy, enthusiastic and happy people.

We shared our last home-cooked dinner together:  Don's mushroom chicken delight.  Tuesday, our last day, we have dedicated to packing and cleaning, so things are winding down.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Our Last Sunday in London

We all comfortably slept in this morning.  Loren went out for a long walk while Don and I stayed home reading and working on crossword puzzles!!
Although we had eaten a fantastic dinner last night up in Chobham and really weren't that hungry, nothing was going to stop us from having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding at a traditional Carvery Pub.  We googled "Carvery Pubs in Hammersmith" and the one that sounded pretty good was The Raven.  We called to make sure they were serving the really traditional buffet and they assured us that they were.
We took a walk, guided by Siri who took us through Ravenscourt Park which is really quite extensive with swimming pools, tennis courts, a number of playground areas and dog parks.  It's a real gem of the neighborhood. 

What struck me was the variety of houses.  It was almost as if each street sported its own unique style of architecture.  There was little variety on each street, but great variety from street to street.

We arrived at The Raven and walked in to a large bar with a huge TV screen showing the latest Test Game of cricket with England playing against Australia.  Walking through the bar we came to a dining area and the kitchen - and there was the buffet.

Don's eyes lit up!  We had found our Traditional Sunday British Buffet.  Not only was there roast beef, roast potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, but there was also turkey, lamb, ham and pork.

Don said we must try the Crackling which was also available.  I had heard a lot about crackling which actually is deep fat fried Pigs' skin.  In my mind I had thought it was going to be like the crunchy outside of a pork roast.  instead, it was very tough and greasy.  The flavor was actually quite good, but the effort to get that flavor was more than I was willing to put in to it.  I have determined the reason it is called "crackling" is that you are very liable to "crack" a tooth eating it!!

The chef came over to check on us and we raved about his meal.  don said, "This is the best Carvery in all of London."  (We didn't tell him it's the only one we had found since we arrived!!)  He was very pleased and asked how long we would be staying.  He was very disappointed to hear we wouldn't be here on Friday as he was doing a test Christmas Dinner so that people could get their orders in.  He showed us the menu and it was amazing with lamb and chicken pate, stuffed mushrooms, bourbon soaked turkey and on and on and on.  I asked him how he learned to cook such fancy things and his story unfolded.  He cooked for the Sultan of Oman.  He served meals to Idi Amin and Sadaam Hussein!!!  His name was David Prema Kumak and he was from Sri Lanka.  He worked on the "private warship" of the Sultan!!  We were dumbstruck.  Maybe we truly had stumbled upon the best carvery in all of London!!

We did our last bit of grocery shopping on our way home and then I ducked in to Marks & Spencer to buy some shortbread and English marmalade.  When I was checking out the cashier asked me if I would like what sounded to me like "a tea bag."  "A tea bag?" I enquired thinking perhaps Marks & Spencer gave out free tea bags!!
"A P bag,"  she clarified.
"A P bag?  What is a P bag?" I asked.
The lady picked up a think plastic bag.  She was asking if I needed a bag.  "Oh, a bag.  Are you asking me to pay a Pound for that bag?"
"A Pence," she patiently responded.
"Oh,yes, thank you very much!!"

My sister Janet asked me if I was able to understand the Brits.  When I watch British TV at home, it takes me well 5 minutes in to the show to  accustom myself to the accent before I can understand everything.  Here in London, I'm understanding most of the words;  it's the meaning that I;m not getting all the time.  This exchange with the cashier at Marks & Spencer is a perfect example of speaking the same language but knowing you're in a foreign country.

On the way home I went a different route and came across a very funny sign.  It said, 

"It Rains More in Rome than it Does in London. Quit Whinging."

 We had a lite dinner of salad and a slice of pork/egg pie.  I suggested that since it was our last Sunday, we try to see if we might get a good BBC movie on TV.  We haven't watched TV since we arrived, and I thought it might be fun to watch BBC in London!  Don and Loren said they thought that was a nice idea.  Don put the TV on and disappeared in to the garden.  Loren went upstairs to get on the computer, and I was left on the couch watching The Mill - a horrid story set in a Mill town in Cheshire, England around the mid-1800's.  The owners treat their child apprentices horribly and it was quite depressing.  Thankfully it was almost over so I didn't have to watch very much of it.

The next show to follow was The White Queen - a new 10 part series recently aired by BBC.  This takes place in Medieval England.  The year is 1464 and England has been at war for nine years battling over who is the rightful King – it is a war between two sides of the same family, The House of York and The House of Lancaster. 'm not sure which part I was watching, but I think I needed some background in order to follow it.  But once again the ruthlessness of the British was gloriously portrayed as two young boys (presumably princes in line for the throne) were being held in a tower and their beheading was being plotted.

Ah, the noble history of England!!

Here I was, all by myself, watching BBC...   I kept nodding off, and finally packed it in and went to bed!

Seeing a Bit of the Countryside

We're all slowing down a bit, and as Don announced, "I'm Londoned Out!"  We were looking forward to going out to the country to visit Don's nephew Richard and his wife Julie in the afternoon, but when we asked the question, "So what shall we do in the morning?" There was a resounding, "NOTHING!"

In the early afternoon, we headed out for the Waterloo Station to catch the train to Woking which is in Surrey, about 30 miles southwest of London. We took the Tube from Hammersmith to the Waterloo stop, rode a couple of escalators up and found ourselves in this huge bustling railroad station - the busiest train station in London.

Once again I am awed by the transportation system in this country.  Here's a statistic that I think you Americans will find mind-boggling:  there are 366 heavy rail stations in and around London!!  ... not England.... London!!  The population of London is about 8 million - roughly the size of New York City.  I was told that each day an additional 7 million make their way in to the city to work!!  Then of course those same 7 million need to wend their way back home at the end of the day!  And that number doesn't include the masses of tourists like us that are using the transportation system.  And it works beautifully and so efficiently!

We sat down on the train and almost immediately Loren found himself in conversation with a man across the aisle. 
"Did you go to Harvard?" he queried pointing to the man's shirt.  I turns out he had studied there for a month taking some course in the business school.  He is a civil engineer with a wife and five children who live in Kerry, Ireland.  He was on his way to Surrey to finish some course work, and is writing his thesis on the concept of a dashboard for building contractors to be able to assess the efficiency of a building project without having to pour through a lot of paperwork. Don and Loren and this guy chatted each other up for the entire train ride!  Very funny.

Richard and his wife live in Chobham, a small town in the county of Surrey.  When I looked up Chobham to find out a bit about the history, I discovered something interesting:

"Chobham has been  bypassed by every new trend.  The Romans hurried on past to fight their battles in the North and West.  The turnpike road developments of the 17th and 18th centuries brought prosperity to Bagshot  and Ripley, but they missed Chobham.  The canal developments went too far to the south.  The railways brought massive growth to Woking and Sunningdale, but the planned railway line to Chobham was never built."

So the town has been able to retain its charm.

Richard met us at the Woking train station and drove us around the countryside.  Although on 30 miles away, immediately you knew you were out of London.  The green fields, the winding roads, and the lack of buses gave it all a very different feel.  Richard, having read this blog, knew immediately that the first stop had to be a country pub for a pint.

A pub in Shere

 He chose to take us to a beautiful quaint village of Shere.  Some of the houses were as if they had been frozen in time.

Check out the roof lines in this old house.
The old Fire House in Shere
Because it is so authentic and picturesque, it has been the site of several movies:

1972 The Ruling Class starring Peter O'Toole.
2004 Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
2005 The Wedding Date starring Debra Messing
                 and Dermot Mulroney.
2006 The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz, Kate
                 Winslet and Jude Law.

The pub we went to for out pint was called The William Bray.  It was a beautiful day and a great way to start our visit in the countryside.

 After our refreshment, Richard drove us to the stables where his daughter, Chloe, was jumping her beautiful horse Rollie.  Chloe has been riding horses since she was 7, and it was a beautiful site to see her with her horse.  We watched her in the ring taking Rollie effortlessly over various jumps.  Then she brought him in to the stables, washed him down, cleaned him up and gave him his dinner.  Chloe is 18 and is waiting to hear where she will be going to University.  Her younger sister, Caris was on holiday so we didn't get a chance to meet her.  (Good Luck Chloe- Let us know what you'll be doing next year.)
Julie with Brackenbury Jester


On the way to Richard and Julie's house, we passed by a beautiful thatched roof house.  These roofs are becoming rarer and rarer mostly due to the high cost of insurance as they are a tremendous fire hazard, but also because they are very difficult to maintain and the thatching trade is becoming obsolete.

Richard and Julie had moved to Chobham about four years ago, and we had heard about their re-modeling project from Don, so we were looking forward to seeing the house which has been under renovation for more than 9 months with at least another month to go.  It was incredible!  I wish I had seen the house a year ago as it was very obvious that the renovations made were quite extensive.  Julie has taken on the role of the "Forelady" of the project, in which she should take great pride.

While in the kitchen I noticed a rendering of the house which shows it without the scaffolding. 

 We shared a glass of wine, sitting around a table on the vast green lawn before going to the Brickmaker for dinner.

I'm not sure if the word "Pub" has a different connotation in the country than in London.  I was told that we were going out for a pub dinner.  Well the Brickmaker was not like the dark, beer smelling pubs we had frequented in the city.  It was a beautiful, airy restaurant with items like chicken liver pate, fresh sea bass and crab with crusty bread on the menu.  We had a delicious dinner and the conversation never stopped. 

The generosity of Richard and Julie continued as they offered to drive us back in to Hammersmith.  We had had a perfect day in the country, and I told our hosts that we had to plan a return trip just to see the finished house!